Since protests against police brutality erupted across the country in the wake of the viral May 25 video of George Floyd dying after a police officer knelt on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, Greenwich residents have been part of a worldwide movement to end police brutality.
On June 1, a group of about 150 young protesters from Greenwich descended on police headquarters where department leadership came outside to greet them and even took a knee to show they too abhor what happened to George Floyd.
At that event, protesters directed their anger toward Greenwich Police and some described incidents in which they felt they had been profiled by Greenwich Police.
The format, however, was not ideal for a two-way dialogue.
In the weeks since that protest, other organized efforts decrying police brutality have not taken the form of confronting Greenwich Police.
During the 8.46 mile “Walk for Floyd” organized by teens who walked Riverside School to Tod’s Point and back, Greenwich Police were on hand to ensure the safety of the marchers.
“With the kids marching, the officers got to meet and talk to the kids,” said Greenwich Police Lt Mark Zuccerella, public information officer, on Wednesday.
“The officers said they enjoyed working that event,” he said. “We’re not adversaries.”
During Indivisible’s June 6 “Greenwich Cares” protest at Town Hall, police had a minimal presence, featured speaker, Dr. Thomas L. Nins, Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church, who also serves as the police chaplain, energized the crowds.
Nins started out by sharing how he had been the victim of discrimination himself, both for being black and for being part of the police department.
“I stand for a community that is tired of being stood upon,” Nins said. “People here today under the age of 18 holding up signs that say black lives matter – I stand on your behalf. I stand on behalf of every black man this generation and generations before who have had to walk in fear because they weren’t sure what would happen to them when they saw the siren in their rear view mirror.”
This week Greenwich Police Chief Heavey released a letter to the community saying, “We share with the nation feelings of outrage at brutal acts committed by police officers. These acts are wholly incompatible with our vision of Greenwich Police as guardians and protectors of the public.”
Heavey said he knows people seek changes in the way policing is conducted, and his department is open to discussing ways to improve.
He said Greenwich Police want to have an ongoing conversation, not only with with the community, but with others in law enforcement as well as legislative representatives.
For example, he said, when police respond to a domestic violence call and there is probable cause, they are required by law to make an arrest.
Another law with unintended consequences has to do with police pursuits. “We can’t pursue anyone for motor vehicle theft any more,” Zuccerella said.
He said when a suspected car thief speeds off, police are prohibited from chasing after them.
This week Chief Heavey shared a document the department prepared, “How We Police and Engage with Our Community,” which outlines existing measures GPD takes to include Constitutional Policing, build the best police force possible, engage with the community, reduce racial profiling (page 7) and minimize the use of force (page 8).
Explaining the rationale for the document, he said, “We felt we needed to share what we’ve done to address complaints that have been brought out since George Floyd’s death. We’re 100% against police brutality, and favor of due process for all.”
Zuccerella said there have been some meaningful conversations between the GPD and Greenwich residents since the protests began.
He said in recent years many police departments across the country became militarized, and adopted a warrior mindset, but that was not the case at GPD.
“We are guardians, not warriors,” he said. “We’re here to improve the quality of life of everybody in the community – even someone just driving through to get gas,” he said.
Also he said the department invests in restorative justice.
“We’ve seen and have improved our relationship with the youth in this town,” he said, giving examples of the Juvenile Review Board, (a diversionary program for youth who may otherwise be referred to Juvenile Court for minor violations), the Positive Behavior Initiative at Greenwich High School, a program created by Lorraine Termini when Officer Carlos Franco was the SRO, and the Greenwich Inter-Agency Team.
Still, Zuccerella said, “We are not perfect. That’s why we want dialogue and discussions on how we can improve.”
He said the police web page includes several links including one people can use to make a complaint about an officer.
In fact, Lt Zuccerella said he is actually the one who opens citizen emails submitted through the police website with complaints and comments.* (See links below)
“If someone feels that aggrieved, they should contact us. We can’t fix a problem if we don’t know if there’s a problem,” he added. “We need to hear from people. We want dialogue. What happened (at the June 1 protest) was not dialogue.”
Zuccerella said he was glad Greenwich Police were working with three young people organizing “Justice for Brunch,” this Saturday June 27 from 12:00 to 2:00pm.
“This is what we want,” he said.
“We want to help people to protect their rights,” he added. “When we can work with people, we can make it successful for everybody. Whether through policy, training or better leadership, anytime we see a problem, we fix it. Tell us in a positive way.”
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